MESA, Ariz.: Zach McAllister has been swallowed up inside a bubble of silence.
Nobody talks about his status as a member of the Indians’ pitching staff. His performances in exhibition games seemingly are lightly noted or ignored by everyone except pitching coach Mickey Callaway and manager Terry Francona.
There appears to be no curiosity about McAllister. How is he getting along in camp? What’s he working on in the bullpen? Is he throwing enough strikes? How’s the old release point? Where does he get a haircut in Goodyear? None of these questions arise.
Nothing about McAllister seems to register among the media. He wouldn’t be noticed at all if he didn’t stand 6-foot-6, a characteristic noted by Francona when he said, “When McAllister lets go of the ball, it’s like he’s right on top of you. That’s not a comfortable feeling.”
All the disinterest surrounding McAllister is a good thing. For him. Long ago, General Manager Chris Antonetti announced that McAllister would begin the season in the rotation. Since then, questions have ceased, the major one having been answered.
“Every year I’ve come into spring training it’s been a different situation,” McAllister said. “It’s a nice feeling to have people say that you’re kind of penciled in. But I don’t want to take anything for granted. I want to earn my spot.”
McAllister drew attention to himself Saturday by putting together his best outing of the spring in a 9-2 win over the Chicago Cubs.
Pitching four innings after David Huff started the game, McAllister did not allow a run, giving up three hits, no walks and striking out three.
“I thought Zach looked really good,” Francona said. “He pounded the strike zone, and he elevated some pitches when he needed to get swing-and-misses.”
Francona emphasized how McAllister uses his height as a weapon.
“He’s so rangy and creates such an angle that he can do a lot of things with the ball,” Francona said.
McAllister credited the positive outing to finding “a pretty good rhythm with my delivery.”
Because of his size, it’s not easy to keep all the parts of his delivery together.
McAllister was one of the New York Yankees’ better pitching prospects when he was traded to the Indians in August 2010. However, when he arrived in the big leagues, nobody made much of a fuss, as McAllister posted an 0-1 record and 6.11 ERA.
The improvement of McAllister from his four-start major-league debut in 2011 was dramatic. His progress manifested itself in fewer walks (2.72 walks per nine innings) in 2012, and he struck out 7.9 batters per nine innings.
McAllister even threw harder last year than in 2011, when his fastball topped out at 94.6 and averaged 91.2. In 2012, his max fastball registered 96 and the average was 91.8.
Pitching at Triple-A Columbus to begin last season, McAllister was 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA. He was summoned to the Indians in early May, when Josh Tomlin went on the disabled list but returned to Triple-A for most of June.
He came to the big leagues for good on June 28, replacing Jeanmar Gomez in the rotation. For the season, McAllister compiled a 6-8 record and 4.24 ERA in 22 starts.
McAllister’s transformation began in the winter of 2010, when Tribe staffers asked him to come to Arizona to make adjustments in his mechanics.
“They asked me to go to instructional league, and I was open to it,” he said. “When I got traded, I knew I wasn’t good enough to be in the big leagues and needed to change some things. I wouldn’t say I knew [specifically] what to do, but I accepted that I needed to do something. What they told me made sense, and I bought into it.”
McAllister said a “combination” of people helped him firm up his mechanics, but he gives most of the credit to Dave Miller and Ruben Niebla, who work with the Indians’ minor-league pitchers.
The alterations that McAllister made in his delivery helped improve his velocity.
“But it didn’t happen overnight,” he said.
Once McAllister internalized the lessons he learned in Arizona, he became a much more consistent pitcher. Last year, he arguably was the club’s most reliable starter in only his first full major-league season.
How high is McAllister’s ceiling? We might begin to determine that this year.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.